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US cities gird for more violence as Trump decries ‘lowlifes’

Demonstrators listened during a peace march honoring George Floyd on Tuesday in Houston.
Demonstrators listened during a peace march honoring George Floyd on Tuesday in Houston. David J. Phillip/AP/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Large protests against police violence again filled the streets of several cities Tuesday, as elected leaders struggled to cope with the damage already done: civilians injured by police, police hurt by civilians, and looters who used the protests as cover.

One of the largest peaceful protests on Tuesday was in Houston, hometown of George Floyd — the Black man whose death in Minneapolis police custody ignited an unprecedented national wave of marches and demonstrations. Journalists on the scene estimated there were 25,000 marchers, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, some of Floyd’s childhood friends, and a group of Black cowboys on horseback.

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As night began to fall on the East Coast, the protests appeared to be peaceful and growing.

Protests ranged across the nation, including in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Paul, Columbia, S.C., and Orlando, where more than 1,000 people gathered in the afternoon to decry the killings of Black people.

“This has to change,” said 39-year-old Aisxia Batiste, an out-of-work massage therapist in Orlando. “Something has to give. We’re done. This is the beginning of the end of something. It has to be.”

In Washington, huge crowds remained near the White House, in defiance of a 7 p.m. citywide curfew and a vast law enforcement and military presence.

In New York City, thousands of demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd remained on the streets Tuesday, despite an 8 p.m. curfew.

The police announced they would not allow vehicle traffic south of 96th Street in Manhattan after curfew, though residents, essential workers, buses, and delivery trucks were exempt. Earlier, a group of doctors in white coats led a march through Midtown.

There were no reports of significant looting or major clashes between protesters and police in cities around the United States. But on previous evenings, those often occurred much later. Tuesday marked the eighth straight night of unrest around the country.

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In some cities, officials spent Tuesday dealing with violent incidents from previous evenings.

In Atlanta, prosecutors charged six police officers with crimes after they used stun guns on two unarmed Black college students driving on a downtown street. In Richmond, the mayor apologized for an incident Monday in which police tear-gassed peaceful protesters. The police chief in Louisville, Ky., was fired after a restaurant owner was killed by police. And in Philadelphia, the mayor criticized police officers for posing for photos with a group of white vigilantes carrying baseball bats and shovels.

In New York, where looters have ransacked stores for several consecutive nights, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, criticized New York City police and Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, for not doing enough. ‘‘The police in New York City were not effective at doing their job last night. Period,’’ said Cuomo, saying he was ‘‘outraged.’’

Monday night, a New York police officer was beaten by looters, and another was struck by a car and seriously injured. They were among several police officers injured nationwide: An officer in Las Vegas was shot and gravely injured, four officers were wounded by gunfire in St. Louis, and two were injured in Buffalo when they were struck by a speeding car.

De Blasio has resisted calling in National Guard troops to help and has instead pleaded with community leaders to help stem the chaos.

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Nationwide, more than 60 million people were under curfews as a result of the protests, in 200 cities and 27 states. The measures are intended to separate peaceful protesters from looters and vandals, by requiring that the peaceful protesters demonstrate in daylight and then go home.

At least 17,000 National Guard troops have been activated. In Washington, where peaceful protests and looting rampages have both occurred in recent days, downtown streets were full of Army trucks and federal agents on Tuesday.

On Monday night, Army helicopters had flown low over protesters in Washington, blasting them with high wind from the rotors — a dangerous maneuver used to intimidate enemies on overseas battlefields. It was a moment unlike any other in recent US history, as hundreds of cities beset by the coronavirus pandemic faced a historic wave of protests.

In many cases, the protesters repeated some of Floyd’s last words: ‘‘I can’t breathe.’’ A Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes on May 25, not moving an inch when Floyd said he couldn’t breathe, or even when Floyd lost consciousness.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder. Three other officers have been fired but not charged with crimes.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, said the state had opened a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, looking back 10 years.

‘‘We’re not going to restore peace on our streets by having a bigger group of National Guard show up,” he said.

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“We’re not going to establish peace on our streets by keeping a curfew in place all the time. We’re going to establish peace on our streets when we address the systemic issues that caused it in the first place.’’

In the past, protests against excessive force have often remained localized to the city where they began, as with Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

This time is different. One possible reason: Americans are now far more likely to believe that police use excessive force against Black people, even compared with a few years ago.

A study from Monmouth University, released Tuesday, found 57 percent of Americans believe police are more likely to use excessive force against Black people. That’s an increase from the 34 percent of registered voters who said the same in 2016 following the police shooting of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and the 33 percent who said so in 2014 after a grand jury did not indict a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

President Trump on Tuesday congratulated himself for having used the National Guard in Washington while blasting de Blasio for not using it in New York. ‘‘Overwhelming force. Domination,’’ Trump wrote in one Twitter post.

On Monday, federal law enforcement officers suddenly used force to clear a crowd of peaceful protesters from an area near the White House — allowing Trump to visit a nearby fire-damaged Episcopal church for a photo op.

Governors and mayors, Republicans and Democrats alike, rejected Trump’s threat to send in the military, with some saying troops would be unnecessary and others questioning whether the government has such authority and warning that such a step would be dangerous.

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“Denver is not Little Rock in 1957, and Donald Trump is not President Eisenhower. This is a time for healing, for bringing people together, and the best way to protect civil rights is to move away from escalating violence,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, both Democrats, said in a statement, referring to Eisenhower’s use of troops to enforce school desegregation in the South.

A senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the president is not rushing to send in the military and his goal is to pressure governors to deploy more National Guard members.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush criticized any effort to squelch protests of Floyd’s death. In a statement issued Tuesday by his office in Dallas, the former Republican president said he and wife, Laura Bush, “are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country.”

Bush did not refer specifically to Trump, but he called the harassment and threats directed toward Black protesters “a shocking failure.”

“It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. . . . Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place,” he said.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.